Tag Archives: Richard Sossi

Sossi Stepping Down

Former two-term Delegate, Richard Sossi, announced that he has submitted his resignation to Congressman Andy Harris, M.D., effective December 31, 2013. Sossi has been serving as the congressional liaison, covering Cecil, Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties, for the congressman since January of 2011.

“I thanked Congressman Harris for entrusting me with this post and with the opportunity it provided me in continuing to serve the citizens of the mid and upper shore on his behalf” Sossi said. Sossi continued, “It is not without some sadness that I am stepping down, but with the 2014 elections coming up, I recognized that a decision had to be made if I were to seek the opportunity of continued public service in the legislative arena.”

Congressman Andy Harris commented, “Dick Sossi has been a real asset to our team. With his knowledge of the district and the high regard he is held by our constituents on the upper shore, he will be sorely missed. I look forward to working with Dick in the future for the betterment of the district”.

Sossi expressed his gratitude to Congressman Harris and indicated that any public announcements concerning his political plans will not be made until after the first of the year. The deadline to file for political office is the 25th of February, 2014.

Bill Would Increase Oyster Sanctuaries, Impose Temporary Moratorium

By JENNIFER HLAD
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS – A bill filed late in the House of Delegates would require the Department of Natural Resources to establish oyster sanctuaries in half of the viable habitat and create a more specific fishery management plan for oysters — and place a moratorium on oyster harvesting until those goals are met.

Delegate Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery, Tuesday testified on behalf of his bill to the Environmental Matters Committee. He said the bill is “meant to begin a discussion.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley has proposed an Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development plan that would expand oyster sanctuaries from about 9 percent of the viable habitat to about 25 percent.

Watermen have said that goes too far and harms their ability to make a living. Dozens have traveled to the capital this legislative session in support of a number of oyster-related bills, including one that would take away the ability of the Department of Natural Resources to designate oyster sanctuaries and others that would protect their right to use certain types of oyster harvesting equipment.

But Hucker said the governor’s oyster plan does not go far enough. His bill would require oyster sanctuaries covering at least 50 percent of the viable public habitat.

“The status quo … won’t save the oyster industry and won’t save the oysters,” Hucker told the committee.

The state must take aggressive action before oysters are gone, Hucker said.

Oysters are important to the health of the Chesapeake Bay because they filter pollutants, he said. But he said the current oyster management system benefits only watermen.

“The bay and the oysters belong to 5 million (Marylanders), not just 200,” Hucker said.

The Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland worked with Hucker on the bill, and governmental relations committee chairman Scott McGuire helped the delegate answer questions about it Tuesday.

McGuire said members of his organization “thought the other side of the story needed to be told.”

“We don’t want to fence off the bay,” he said, but oysters are “so important, they need special protection.”

Delegate Richard Sossi, R-Queen Anne’s, said the bill “doesn’t help the industry (and) doesn’t help the environment.”

The oyster population has been low for years, Sossi said, but it isn’t getting worse. So while he wants to see the population rebound soon, he said the state needs to give aquaculture more time to work before changing the rules.

Hucker’s bill “blatantly throws 500 people out of work … during one of the worst recessions in history,” Sossi said.

Hucker said he did not think the bill would kill the oyster industry. He said the moratorium provision is to prompt quick action on a fishery management plan, not to stop oyster harvesting all together.

But he said the oyster industry is not an economic engine for the state and that state resources and taxpayer-supported research should not benefit watermen at the expense of others.

“My constituents have been very heavily subsidizing the oystermen for (decades),” he said.

Watermen Fight to Protect Oyster Harvesting Techniques

By JENNIFER HLAD
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – More than 150 watermen took a day off from the water Tuesday to protest a proposed oyster restoration plan and support a bill they say will help them hang on to their livelihood.

The bill would protect the watermen’s right to use certain equipment and techniques — power dredging and patent tongs — to harvest oysters. The areas where oystermen can use that equipment is already limited, and the bill would prevent the state from further restrictions.

“We see this as a preemptive bill,” said Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Caroline, who sponsored the bill and introduced it Tuesday in the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Watermen also say their ability to harvest oysters is threatened by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan.

The 10-point plan includes increasing oyster sanctuaries from 9 percent of the current habitat to about 25 percent, leaving less area for struggling oystermen to harvest. Watermen worry the state’s next step will be to ban power dredging and patent tonging all together.

The oyster restoration plan does not specifically address the harvesting methods. But Department of Natural Resources officials say Colburn’s bill would inhibit the department’s ability to establish oyster sanctuaries in the lower part of the Chesapeake Bay, where most of the dredging happens.

Watermen say power dredging can do more to restore oyster populations than sanctuaries can do.

Bucky Chance, a waterman from Bozman, pointed to the Tangier Sound as an example. Ten years ago, he said, an oyster was hard to come by in those waters. Now, many oystermen are catching their limit there every day … and seeing plenty of young oysters as well.

“Every place we have used (this equipment),” they’re coming back. Every place we’re not, they’re barren,” Chance told the Senate committee.

But Tom O’Connell, director of the Department of Natural Resources fisheries service, said dredging can be destructive in some parts of the bay.

“We know for certain” that power dredging is not sustainable over time in certain areas, O’Connell said.

Joe Kubert, a waterman from Kent Island, said dredging “fluffs up” the bottom, providing a cleaner spot for spat – or baby oysters – to attach to and creating a good habitat for crabs and fish.

Jeff Harrison, a year-round commercial fisherman from Tilghman Island, said the oyster industry “is basically surviving off of power dredging and tonging.”

“If I have to stop power dredging, that’s six months out of the year gone, and I can’t just crab and fish,” Harrison said. “I would have to find another job. Who’s going to hire a 51-year-old fat man? There’s nothing much for me to do.”

Ronnie Fithian, a Kent County commissioner who worked as a waterman for about 28 years, said the issue is “life or death for the oystermen.”

He called the idea of sanctuaries “a joke,” and said oystermen would argue that “the more you work an area, the better it is.”

Del. Richard Sossi, a Republican from the Eastern Shore, said that given the slumping economy and difficult job market, the timing of the oyster restoration proposal seems off.

“Doesn’t it strike you as a bad time to gamble on people’s livelihoods?” he said, during a Tuesday morning presentation about the oyster proposal to the House Environmental Matters Committee.

Secretary of Natural Resources John Griffin said the proposal is intended to help oyster production, not to force anyone out of work or limit power dredging. But Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, also questioned the timing of the oyster proposal.

The Senate bill preserving power dredging and patent tonging could provide a transitional period for oystermen, Harris said, allowing them to keep using the equipment as the state moves forward with sanctuaries.

After the hearing, Colburn said Harris’ comments and the discussion they spurred were a “ray of hope.” Colburn said he would be open to giving the bill an expiration date, perhaps five years from now.

Capital News Service reporter Adam Kerlin contributed to this story.